Beauty tycoon

Born: March 31, 1926;

Died: September 25, 2015

COUNT Hubert d'Ornano, who has died at the age of 89, was the man behind the luxury French botanical beauty company Sisley. During his 40 years at its helm, the company grew from being a small, family-run concern into a multinational – yet still family-run – brand which is now available in 90 countries and is worth £470 million. It is also a particular favourite of Scottish women, despite its products' hefty price tags.

Sisley was still something of a cult brand in the mid-1990s when the d'Ornanos chose Glasgow's Frasers as the site of its first Scottish outpost. But it quickly established itself in the beauty hall and built a devoted following first in Glasgow, then in Jenners in Edinburgh and other Scottish stores over the next decade.

From the outset, Sisley was a beauty company which danced to its own beat. In a 2006 interview at his home on the Quai d'Orsay with The Herald, the count said: "We launch when we have something special to launch. We don't launch for the sake of launching."

He spoke proudly about how his wife, Isabelle, would diligently and enthusiastically read all the customer feedback she received each week, and how it was requests for new products that would invariably lead to their creation and launch – rather than the company creating new products and then trying to foist them on to customers, which is usually the case in the beauty business.

D'Ornano took over the infant Sisley brand in 1976 and developed it according to his vision of relying on technological advancements to use the best aspects of plants and essential oils in beauty products. Now regarded as a pioneer in phyto-cosmetology, he once said: "I love the countryside. I am aware that, thanks to modern technology, it is in plants that one can make the biggest discoveries, not only for medicine but also for cosmetics."

Charming but forthright, d'Ornano – the quintessential Parisian gentleman - had firm ideas on the purpose of perfume; how it should be an aphrodisiac, how its "sillage" (trail) should linger after the wearer has walked on by, and how each fragrance created by Sisley should be unique.

The son of Guillaume and Elisabeth d'Ornano, Hubert was born in 1926 in the family castle of Melgiew in Poland. He came from a centuries' old family of Corsican origin, the Ornanos, who, from the 16th to 20th centuries, provided France with several field marshals, generals and officers. His father was a French diplomat who was sent to Poland where he married a Polish girl.

In the 2006 interview, d'Ornano, who was working on his autobiography, at the time, elaborated further: "My grandmother was Maria Walewska, who was Polish, and she was the love of Napoleon. She died, at the age of 32, giving birth to her second child – a d'Ornano – while her first child was Napoleon's son."

It's not just the d'Ornanos who have an impressive pedigree; the company they created has a line that can be traced back through the aristocracy of French beauty houses. The count's father created Lancome in 1935, and, at the age of 20, he founded the perfume company Jean d'Albret with his brother Michel. They went on to establish the beauty brand Orlane, in 1954, and it was during the Orlane period, in 1963, that Hubert married Isabelle and began to work with her.

Michel d'Ornano, who had been elected Mayor of Deauville, decided to dedicate himself to politics and he left the beauty business in 1968. The d'Ornano brothers' company was sold but Hubert d'Ornano continued to direct on behalf of the new shareholders until 1975 when he took over and became president of the fashion house Jean-Louis Scherrer.

In 1976, when Christine, the youngest of Hubert and Isabelle's five children, was three years old, they set up Sisley and moved to the Quai d'Orsay. It became a family affair, with the children working for the business during school holidays. While their mother Isabelle focused on the brand's image and the development of new products, Christine grew up to become the managing director who also runs the London office, her sister Elisabeth became the "face" of Sisley in adverts, and their brother Philippe, who was chairman, took over from his father as president in 2013.

Well into his eighties, Hubert d'Ornano remained very involved in the development of Sisley and always exuded a parental pride in the company. In 2007 he and his wife created the Sisley-d'Ornano Foundation, under the aegis of the Fondation de France, to conduct charity work and philanthropy in very diverse fields both in France and abroad. One such project was the restoration of the fresco of the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, the seat of the Polish Mission in Paris.

In 2007, d'Ornano published Boundless Beauty, a memoir in which he wished "to tell this personal, family and collective story to safeguard it, to pass it on to my descendants. To share it with those who use and love Sisley and those who have contributed to its development. In telling this story, it is also a means of reflecting our values, ideas, desires, a style, that of Sisley."

He is survived by his wife, Isabelle, and by three of his children.